February 20, 2013, 8:48 pm
The government earlier this week recruited 1,800 trainees to the country’s biggest bank, state-controlled the Bank of Ceylon (BOC), a little over a month after its former Chairman resigned with a parting statement that an effort was made to mitigate political pressure for loans and jobs so that the bank could survive.
"With the steep expansion of banking activities in the country many of the banks are facing a shortage of staff to cater to their increasing customers and man bank branches being established throughout the country," the government announced yesterday (20).
"As a solution to this problem Bank of Ceylon has recruited 1,800 trainee staff assistants. A function to award appointment letters to these new recruits was held at Temple Trees on Tuesday (19) under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The new trainee assistants are to be deployed at 602 BOC branches throughout the country. The new recruits have been chosen from 97,000 applications received for these posts," the government said.
It said the bank has close to 10 million customers (nearly half the population) and the assets of the bank has increased to over Rs. 1 trillion.
Earlier this year, media reports said the president’s son, Namal Rajapaksa, had approached the then BOC Chairman Dr. Gamini Wickramasinghe about providing jobs and loans to constituents.
"He is a young politician and you know how young people are. He asked me a certain question and I gave him a suitable answer but that was that. There is no friction or problem between us," Wickremasinghe told journalists last January when he announced his retirement from the bank. He said his resignation had nothing to do with Namal Rajapaksa.
"My only request to the President was that a political henchman should not be appointed because this could unravel all that we have achieved. There have always been pressure from politicians for jobs and loans but we have always mitigates this and did things by the book, otherwise the bank cannot survive," Dr. Wickramasinghe said.
Unaudited accounts for 2012 indicated a profit of Rs. 20 billion.
"Without fresh capital it would be impossible for the bank to reach greater heights and realise its true potential. We submitted a proposal to the Treasury before the budget, suggesting methods that can be used which would not burden the Treasury or the bank, but unfortunately we did not get a favourable response," the BOC Chairman said not elaborating, although hinting at a bond issued up to US$ 500 million, which the bank was quite capable of achieving.
Economists have pointed out that bloating the public service is a popular method for governments to ‘buy’ support, irrespective of the financial consequences.
As to the government’s claim of a shortage of staff, a top banker, not wanting to be named, says the industry is not facing a shortage.
"Each time a bank advertises for entry level positions they get more than 1,000 applications of which around 20 to 30 are chosen. And with the level of technology in the industry, recruitment and training is not an issue. Perhaps, the quality of staff could be questioned, but there is no shortage," he said.
Technology is also making some jobs redundant in the sector.